Jonathan Eig’s Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson’s First Season is the latest in a series of books about the most iconic figure in post-WWII baseball. The book is not as much a biography of Robinson, but mostly an examination of Robinson’s first season in the majors and how the Brooklyn Dodgers and the rest of baseball and its fans reacted to Robinson’s arrival on the scene.
Even though many of the principals in the events of 1947 are still living, such as Rachel Robinson and Joe Garagiola, the reality of what happened is still subject to debate. Eig’s book attempts to look at many of the stories that have arisen from Robinson’s debut year and tries to give them an objective review.
Did the St. Louis Cardinals try to boycott their first game in Brooklyn in 1947? (Probably not.) Did Pee Wee Reese walk across the field in Cincinnati and put his arm across Robinson in a sign of solidarity ? (Maybe, but it might not have been in 1947 or even in Cincinnati or it even could have been Eddie Stanky.) Did Garagiola try to bait Robinson with racial epithets? (Garagiola says no.)
But what do we know about Robinson and the 1947 season? We know that Robinson drew black fans to stadiums throughout the National League. We know that Robinson, after a slow start, turned in a stellar season that propelled the Dodgers to an unlikely NL pennant. We know that Robinson was quickly accepted as a member of the Dodgers, but not fully embraced as a teammate until he had proven himself both on and off the field.
I didn’t quite know what to make of the book. Eig’s research on the subject seems thorough. His interviews are interesting reading. There are good details about how new Dodger manager Burt Shotton handled the difficult situation he inherited after Leo Durocher was suspended at the beginning of the season.
But perhaps the focus is a little too narrow for a figure as big as Jackie Robinson. There was much more to his career than just 1947. For a bigger picture, I would suggest Jules Tygiel’s Baseball’s Great Experiment, and for information about Robinson’s post-baseball career, you can try Arnold Rampersad’s authorized Jackie Robinson: A Biography.
However, Opening Day is a worthwhile addition to the ever-increasing canon of books about Jackie Robinson. Not accounting for revised editions, I count over 400 titles about Jackie Robinson in OCLC Worldcat.